Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Great Debater!

Is Christian apologist William Lane Craig a great debater?

Well - of course the answer is emphatically yes, but only in the sense that his command of the podium helps him to carry the audience to a conclusion that he has persuaded them is true.

These persuasive skills do not necessarily have anything to do with truth or rational thought.  We all know that great speakers can engage with the audience and carry them along with them towards a conclusion.  We know of powerful Roman Catholic speakers who have done this throughout history, Adolf Hitler being just such a person.  We might not agree with his philosophy, and no doubt many Germans felt nervous about it at the time, but a powerful leader can be very persuasive.

Let's examine one of William Lane Craig's debates, with famous atheist and author of "God is not Great", Christopher Hitchens.  The event took place at Biola University on 4th April 2009 and if you have the patience and stamina, you can watch all 2 hours 12 minutes of it at this link.  I choose this one because it was widely claimed that Craig 'won' it and it is interesting to analyse why.  Given the demography of the audience it would have been somewhat strange if he had not and Hitchens' performance was not one of his greatest.  He failed to nail Craig's arguments as incisively as usual.

Craig used five arguments which he repeated ad nauseum.

Not a single one of these is actually persuasive unless you happen to believe in the same particular god that Craig worships.

1/  The Cosmological argument or 'Kal├óm argument', also sometimes known as the 'argument from first cause',  is treated well here and I feel that it is not worth adding to it except to reiterate that its assumptions are flawed and its corollary could apply to any god that you choose.  Indeed it was originally used to prove the existence of Allah, not 'God'.

2/  The Teleological argument or 'argument from design' is also totally flawed.  The universe looks superficially as though it has been designed for 'us', but when you look in more detail the hypothesis begins to fall apart.  I address a similar topic here.  Looking at the alleged difficulties in physics, Victor Stenger counters them very clearly in his books, including "God, The Failed Hypothesis."

3/  Objective morality is a strange concept.  For one thing, it is perfectly clear that there is no such thing as objective morality.  Most of us would not wish to be associated with Hitler's view of morality, but it has to be accepted that it came very much from the teaching of the Roman Catholic church - even the anti-semitic parts.  People from cultures that are not based on christianity would surely be expected to have even more alien ideas of objective morality.

The christians who claim that the only objective morality is theirs have failed twice.  First they have not looked at the world to determine whether there is any such thing - which there is not.  Secondly they claim that it is theirs and accuse atheists of not having any way to explain it otherwise.  In my view it is those christians who need to provide evidence to support their claim.  Just because their bronze and iron age writings contain something that is a little bit like present day western morality (if you ignore the correct passages), they seem to claim that these things were not already developing throughout pre-history.  But of course they do that with the whole Jesus myth too.  It is not a new tactic.

4/  The evidence for the resurrection has been covered by many people including me here (and obliquely, here, since the resurrection could not have happened without the crucification).  Since there is really no independent evidence that the resurrection happened at all, and since the story was already many thousands of years old at the time (here), this point can be dismissed as a smoke screen.

5/  Immediate experience of god falls into another category.  It might indeed be 'true' to the person who has had the experience, and they could easily consider it to be evidence to themselves.  I make a point of never denying that such experiences might have happened to them but it is not actually evidence for me.  Even if I had that kind of experience tomorrow I would probably find a different explanation for it.  At the very least I would wonder whether I had met god or just had an interesting and not-uncommon psychological experience.

 * * * * * 

And that is all there was to it.  Five easily dismissed arguments could win you a debate, even against an acknowledged rhetorical opponent.

You have to draw your own conclusions.  Yours might be different from mine and they might not, but at the very least you can understand why Richard Dawkins described Craig as  'a ponderous buffoon who brandishes impressive-sounding syllogisms'.  Craig's use of language is not designed to promote understanding but to impress the audience with his rhetorical expertise, and he achieves this very impressively.  His use of words such as 'cosmological', 'teleological' and 'transcendent' are all examples of his art.

It is sad that he has to repeat the same old topics as if they somehow prove anything.  They don't.  But of course there are no new arguments for the existence of god.  All the new arguments attempt to use the progress of science to prove that science has not progressed and they attempt to invoke god as a supernatural alternative.

Related post:  William Lane Craig to visit


RosaRubicondior said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RosaRubicondior said...

Another tactic used by people like Lane Craig, Kent Hovind, Ken Ham, Michael Behe and other Creationist apologists is to completely ignore any refutations of their claims from previous debates and simply to repeat their old arguments afresh, pretending that they are unaware of their refutation.

There is no objective attempt to reach the truth through debate; no intellectually honest acceptance that their opponent has destroyed their argument and that they need to re-think.

All that matters is selling their snake-oil to the audience and maintaining the income stream.

Claiming to be the guardians of objective morality, given their scant regard for it, is amongst their more nauseating of characteristic. Maybe that's why they bleat so loudly about morality.

Anonymous said...

To be honest I would say that any debate and any debator can be disagreed with. There is no ultimate proof of God just as there is no ultimate proof of there not being God. You can rip Craig's debating to pieces or you can rip Dawkins' debating to pieces and in fact it is possible to rip both of them to pieces or anyone else's for that matter but that doesn't mean that either is,
1) a ponderous buffoon - this is a personal opinion and not the best way of arguing and show more about Dawkins' character than his scientific background.
2) that one is true and the other is not - this all depends whom you choose to prefer to listen to and agree with.
3) That God does or doesn't exist.

It all depends on your starting position and what you believe.

It's an interesting thing that in so many films and tv progs and in so many books there is emphasis on a person having something, be it the love of another person, or the faith that carries a person through a trauma etc...and one of the best characteristics of a person is, I would say, our ability to persevere because of acting on 'faith' in something or someone. It pervades our very being. Hebrews 11:1 states "Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen". As a christian I find this to be central to my walk with God on a daily basis. It is my belief that we are made for this, and it is of course, this, that the so called 'new atheism' declares 'stupid', etc...yet millions of people have testified and found it not to be so.

I watched one interview if one could call it that, when a christian man from the audience asked Dawkins what he would say to a man who had experienced the risen Jesus Christ etc and Dawkins simply told this man he was halucinating and dismissed him out of hand. You know when I watched that I felt so immensely sad for Dawkins at that moment and all of those who have shut their minds to the possibility of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Plasma Engineer said...

I know the event that you mention. It was in Inverness, and the man had not taken any notice of Dawkins' previous answer. He also asked the questions in that whining sympathetic 'wee free' (or Presbyterian?) tone of voice which sounds so demeaning and condescending to non-believers. starting at 5:05.

"Sir, you are obviously sincere, but obviously I do not share your beliefs and I think you are hallucinating ... but I don't doubt your sincerity."

I feel that he got what he deserved. The answer was polite and to the point. He had asked a provocative question and he got and answer. After all he had offered nothing substantial and was making claims that I personally find very difficult to listen to.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that this man had a whining sympathetic tone of voice. neither did I hear him to be condescending or demeaning. What you state is simply your opinion of your impression of him.

The fact that you find him 'very difficult to listen to' is, again neither here nor there and doesn't detract from what he said of his personal experience. For me, I found him inspiring.

Dawkins in my view, has a great skill of managing to be extremely rude under (as I have pointed out before) the guise of being polite. In this instance I don't think Dawkins did himself any favours in how he comes across. Incidentally I have friends who are both 'wee frees' and 'presbyterians' who are some of the best people I know.

As for this man asking a provocative question, well in any discussion where there is much disagreement would you not say that virutally any question can be viewed as provoking from either side of the discussion?

Your opionion as to what is 'substantial' is just that, your opinion. A testimony of faith and how it has been life changing in my opinion is substantial (as my earlier quote from Hebrews). Again, we all begin with different opinions and viewpoints. We also perceive how people come across and we make judgements on those people. My impression of Dawkins is of a very arrogant and rude man, your impression of him is an inspirational genius. My impression of this Scot on the video is that he is a humble inspirtational man, yours is that he is condescending and just goes to show doesn't it that how we see and perceive people at first site depends very much on what they are believing...and how they declare what they believe.

I suppose what we all have to do is attempt not to be judgmental in our views of people. I need to stop calling Dawkins arrogant, rude and agressive, (as it may indeed not be his intention to be so)and try simply to listen to what he is saying and assess his declarations for what they are without any hint of personal opinion as to his character....and also try to do the same with those such as Craig and the Scot on this video, and not judge them.

Plasma Engineer said...

@Forbsy Yep. you're not supposed to judge, whereas I have perfect freedom to do so, in the full knowledge that others will judge me. I judge that people who ask questions should not be upset by honest answers.

krissthesexyatheist said...

Buddy, the truth and being a great debater are not ness mutually exclusive and can be independent. Fo sho I do not agree with what he says, fo sho Carrier's truth, Kraus'es truth etc whomp all over Craig-NT is best, the rez happened, etc...But he wins all the time. dabating is a chess game, not the truth. If truth won, then all the scientists and historians that debate him would win (I've only seen Price and Avalos win against him). I think your getting the truth and the game of debating mixed up. Awesome anywyas buddy,


RosaRubicondior said...

I remember that Presbyterian. Unless I misunderstood his argument, it seemed to be that, because he couldn't afford to be wrong, having invested everything in his 'faith', he must be right.

Strangely arrogant view of reality that makes it that compliant.

RosaRubicondior said...


Can I take it that you don't judge what is real and what is not real by using objective evidence and logical deduction, but on whether you believe it or not?

Can you really not see the problem there?

Anonymous said...

Hi RosaRubicondior, yes, I agree with you, that is what I am trying to say that we should all judge objectively, but I am pointing out that there are times when we don't do that because we all come with different viewpoints and our prejudices do affect the way we think and judge people, and I was simply admitting that I have judged Dawkins as arrogant, but that perhaps I am wrong to do so, and that actually judging a person's character adds little to the discussion, but that once we recognise this then we can move beyond our prejudices and try to get at the truth.

After assessing, reading, personal research, degrees in both science and theology, and personal experience of the risen Jesus Christ I have come to the conclusion that
1) The objective evidence supports that the Bible is true.
2) That logic comes in many forms and not all can be trusted. As a mathematician I find the whole history of maths and logic fascinating.
3) That for me I have found Jesus Christ to be real and I have invested everything in Him.

The Scot, (and I would include myself alongside this man having also invested everything in Jesus Christ) and Richard Dawkins both profess to be right, Whether the Scot, myself or Dawkins are arrogant in the face of such declarations is in the end, neither here nor there, but what is clear is that one of us is wrong!

Anonymous said... more observation - it's interesting to see comments about whether someone being a good debator lends weight to their cause. This in fact is the same point that christians make about articulate atheists but are often criticised for. Fascinating!